Cookson, 27 08 1911 3
27 August 1911
THE KELLYGANG FROM WITHIN
THE KELLYS PRESENT HOME
But as they turned into what was in formal conditions the road, the heavens opened and the wetness thereof came down in blinding sheets, shutting out of sight everything beyond a few yards away. And after a mile or two of this the wayfarers decided to seek shelter and defer their journey till some break in the downpour should occur. Then, more further on they came to a sliprail. Above it, on a gentle slope, stood a small cottage fenced, and with some at a garden about it. One does not stand on ceremony in the bush, and by long the travellers were calling loudly an eager to the people in the cottage to come and say out the "good day." They came at length, and a quaintly assorted group they made. Two ruddy cheeked children and a well favoured girl of 14 summers - these were the first to col 4 run into the large living room to inspect the strangers come thus unexpectedly within their gate. After them came, less quickly, one whose appearance at one commanded the undivided attention of the visitors.
An ancient woman, of aspect so forlorn as to suggest most strongly a life not only devoid of hope for the future, but weighed down with some great, overpowering sorrow of the past. Her frame was spare and poorly clad; the wrists and hands were as scant of flesh as the talons of an eagle, the thin shoulders, stooping with the weight of years and of lifelong tragedy, giving but feeble support to a head upon which the freckled skin was drawn as tight as parchment upon a drum. The thin, wan face was almost devoid of expression - save that one of hopeless grief and despair that was frozen upon it. But there was expression in the eyes. Weak with age as they did not altogether conform to the dull immobility of the hard drawn face. At sight of the visitors they brightened up suddenly, and it was not difficult to see that they reflected as much apprehension as curiosity concerning the purport of the intrusion. There could be no mistaking it - these were the eyes of one who had lived long and suffered much aridest dangers, grievous and sustained. And not less than of apprehension their strange, hunted expression spoke of distrust, no doubt habitual, of all visitors, be their business what it might - pay?, of all strangers whomsoever. For a brief space the crone stood tremblingly at the rough board table, regarding the visitors with such obvious anxiety as to be perceived by the children.
"These gentlemen want to come in out of the rain, for a while Granny," spoke the eldest of the three children, reassuringly. "One of them has come all the way from Sydney to see Mr - and he's not home, and they're as wet as anything, and cold."
"From Sydney?" murmured the ancient woman, and the words seemed to leave her in a whisper.
"DEAD! DEAD! DEAD!"
The visitor indicated explained that he was there on a mission from a Sydney newspaper - "The Sun" - concerning a report that two members of the Kellygang - Dan Kelly and Steve Hart - popularly supposed to have perished in the great and final tragedy at the Glenrowan Hotel, had been seen alive and well in South Africa and elsewhere.
The old women started violently.
"What!" she cried tremblingly. "Dan not dead! No! It's a lie." And the aged head was bowed upon a meagre breast. "It's a lie, she murmured. "Dan is not alive. Dan is dead - dead - dead. What!" she exclaimed, clutching at the rough table for support. "don't I know that he's dead? Haven't I proof of it all these weary years? Do you think I don't know? I tell you Dan's dead and gone, many years ago."
"But." the visitor from Sydney put in, sympathetically, "these proofs - you say you have proofs - what are they - what do you know about these people?"
The old woman's stern, gaunt face had become once more impassive in its pitiful expression of frozen despair. She was looking out of doors - out to where the rain was still steadily drenching the half-flooded countryside - gazing, with the rapt air of one who beholds a vision afar off, at something invisible to all save her. Then she spoke, slowly and abstractedly.
"Dan is dead. No one knows it better than I do. Yes; I have the proof. Look!" - and she turned to "The Sun" representative, and in a voice that, though feeble, was almost a scream, exclaimed:-
"If Dan Kelly was alive all these years, wouldn't he have come to me? Would he let me want and go hungry, as I have done? Would he have seen me ending my life in this misery and done nothing to help me? Wouldn't he have told Jim?" - and she paused for breath, exhausted for the time.
"But who is Jim?"
"Why, Jim Kelly; the man who owns this place, and the bravest, noblest son a woman could have. I wish Jim was here. He'll tell you. No! They can say what they like! Dan is dead; and that's the end of it."
"Then, in the name of all that is astonishing, who are you, madam?" Inquired the surprised pressman.
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